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Human Rights in the Context of the Changing Global Order

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Thomas Hobbes argued that nature of conflict is embedded in the natural condition of mankind. On account of constant fear procured from this nature for the weaker sections of society, philosophers argued for creation of moral and legal obligations for protecting the interests of human beings. This followed the formulation of human rights in its modern sense. Though human rights are synonymous with every human civilization throughout the history, the nature of these rights were mostly in pursuance of the natural condition of conflict where it was directed in favour of one group over another. The current form of liberal world order based human rights regime was formed after the World War II and is the most influencing regime ever formed in the human history. There have been no other human rights system as widely accepted as the one we are living in. It is based on the principles of mutual respect, human dignity, equality and democratic values. In the bipolar world of the cold war era, human rights became part of an ideological struggle. The codification and monitoring of these rights benefitted from the power struggle between Soviet Union and the United States of America [US]. The human rights regime was at its peak after the fall of Berlin Wall. In the following unipolar era dominated by the US hegemony, the regime at times did suffer from backlashes but nothing was that serious to threaten the base of this regime at all. Now when the current world order itself is in retreat, the future of this human rights regime is under skepticism.

American hegemony is on a decline, particularly due to their own policies aided with the rise of regional players. The American-dominant world order is set to be replaced by a multi polar order, where numerous emerging states will have a share in the global power. These emerging states are mostly authoritarian or illiberal democracies having a poor record on human rights subject. The changing course of global power would adversely impact the current human rights regime. The change is inevitable but the degree of such change could be controlled since the international order is very deeply rooted in the current world order. It is where the role of emerging democracies and traditionalist powers become important to control the course of such change.

The changing global order

Stagnancy coupled with global order is a false concept often intermixed in the international relations. The end of every global order is inevitable and they expire in a prolonged deterioration rather than taking a sudden collapse. Ever since liberalism became the centre of the global order in the 1940s, it has been under constant threat from the actions of dominating state as well as non-state actors. This liberal order that was created in the aftermath of the Second World War produced immense benefits for the people across the planet. The years following this period brought unprecedented growths like prosperity and raise in standards of human rights. In particular, the human rights regime received a boost with the different newly formed human rights order centered on upholding the values of humanism. This order was centered on the principle of mutual respect of sovereignty and it survived the cold war and American hegemony and the challenges thereafter.

But the liberal world order is now deteriorating and the US is fast losing its superpower status that it gained post Soviet collapse. Experts argue that this breakdown of US power started with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the present administration policies which seem disinterested in leading the global order is the end point of US hegemony.[1] With this end, there are multiple aspects of world order that is possible and foreseeable. Some argue that the world order will remain unipolar with the classical power swift happening from one great power to another, others argue that the world order will return to pre-1992 bipolar phase while the most convincing argument being the multi polar world order where the global power could be concentrated in small pockets of numerous countries. With the rising economy and military powers, the regional powers will have a share in the concentrated global power in the upcoming order.

With the shift in the world order, the international institutions supporting the order will find it difficult to adapt to the new conditions. The older order was primarily supported by liberal democracies, now there is a constant shift of powers from these democracies to authoritarian and illiberal democratic countries. The liberal world order saw the rise of free countries by at least 36 percent which is now at a constant rate of decline.[2] The new world order is thus set to be dominated by countries with poor human rights record. With these set of countries dominating the world order in the coming times, the liberal order based human rights regime will suffer severe repercussions.

The human rights order of the current era

Global human rights came into play only after a long period of power shifts and brutal wars rather than peaceful international relations. Post World War II, the liberal order gave prominence to the United Nations which was seen as a standing global forum which would set uniform guidelines for attaining mutual trust and orchestrate domestic as well as external policies of a state. In the third General Assembly of the United Nations held in 1948, the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights [UDHR] was adopted which could be attributed as the principle document of the current human rights regime.[3] Article 28 of the UDHR emphasises on entitlement to a social and international order which upholds human dignity and liberty.[4] In the following years, numerous national and international human rights organisations were set up which ultimately established an international order based on the principles of Article 28.

The human rights order has been shaped by the actions of state as well as non-state actors. Under the state actors include the nature of states, the domestic laws and the geopolitical interests the state serve to the particular cause. For the non-state actors, there are two broad heads of human rights organisations, the intergovernmental organisations [IGOs] or the international non-governmental organisations [INGOs]. The IGOs are formed by treaties amongst several states. Upon ratification of the same, the states become legally bound by the objectives set out in the treaty. The INGOs on the other hand carry out support services along with pressurizing the states for attaining rights. In the past, INGOs like Amnesty International or Red Cross have been successful in influencing political processes including areas of high politics affecting national sovereignty and the actions of other key players. The human rights order thus created has established deep roots in the current world order.    

Challenges to human rights order in the multi polar world

Western countries played an extraordinarily large role as funders and conveners of human rights organisations, directly or indirectly shaping the mode of working of these organisations.[5] Several states have argued that the organisations have been shaped in such a way to best suit the dominance of the western countries. For instance, there have been criticisms of Responsibility to Protect doctrine which have been time and again usurped by the West to wage wars in other countries. The double standard invasions to bring peace to a region have not gone well with the advocates of human rights. Countries are losing confidence in the established institutions like never before. Many countries have either left or have showed their intentions to leave the International Criminal Court over alleged political bias. Other human rights institutions are also not free from these threats. The principles of democracy as enshrined under UDHR are not feasible in a world ruled by far right or authoritarian states. If the world powers are shifted from the west to the regional players then it is certain that these organisations in their current form would suffer a backlash. While traditional powers are unwilling to reform the institutions, the emerging states are becoming more assertive in the global politics in the same place. The formation of New Development Bank by BRICS countries show that if the emerging states are not better accommodated in the existing institutions, such as World Bank or UNSC, they will undermine those institutions by creating alternative ones.

The rise of populism

The issue of human rights disorder cannot be limited to non-western countries. In recent years, the rise of populism has resulted in deteriorating human rights accord in the western countries as well. Populism is a growing ideology and an anti-establishment movement which share suspicion and hostility towards the established institutions. Studies have indicated that populist governments have eroded individual rights and inflicted serious damage on democratic institutions.[6] In Europe for example, the increasing immigration from the Middle East and the need for preservation of cultural identity per se started the populist tide and now, the far right groups emerging from populism are expressing discontent with the established human rights laws. Several states are even passing protectionist laws aimed at curbing basic rights of refugees as enshrined in the Refugee Convention or the UDHR principles. The rise of populism has not only affected Europe but it has gone past the Atlantic to the US. The protectionist policies coupled with growing human rights abuse of the migrants shows the changing nature of administration to deal with human rights issues.[7] Though the abuse on several counts like Guatanamo Bay have been there in the US but the current administration is very vocal in carrying out these abuses and making it sound like a norm. The multi polar world order will continue to have considerable say of these western countries and they are ought to act as saviours of the established institutions but with the rise of far right groups here they are most likely pursue the protectionist policies and evade their responsibilities to act.

Populism have gone past all possible barriers to distant countries like Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil and other emerging powers. This is leading to swift transfer of liberal democracy to illiberal ones. For instance the Philippine government has initiated its war on drugs policy where thousands of extra judicial killings have taken place.[8] Brazil has also shown increasing numbers of extrajudicial killings.[9] Indonesia is also witnessing the rising tides of populism where the far right opposition is witnessing strongholds in different pockets of the country.[10] Unlike the west where populism is constrained by strongly established democratic institutions, in Asian countries these institutions are generally weak and populism could prove more dangerous to democracy. These countries are the important regional players who will have significant say in the new world order, the rising populist tide in these countries is thus worrisome for the established human rights order.

The rise of authoritarian states in the world order

The authoritarian states will have a dominant share in the rising multi polar world order. Countries like Turkey, China, North Korea, Russia etc and regional groups like African Union, Arab League and the like will have a considerable say in the world order. The human rights record of these countries range from poor to very poor. Of these countries, China is likely to have the most important share of the global power but its autocratic government sees human rights as existential threat to the state. The Chinese government has long pushed the current human rights order as an infringement of its sovereignty. Its recent episode with detaining of thousands of Muslims from Xinjiang region clearly shows the poor human rights accord it would provide for in its capacity.[11] The current human rights order will always have some kind of infringement on the national sovereignty thus one should not expect support of the authoritarian states in this regard. Further, there are certain provisions in the UDHR which are clearly in contraventions with the foundations of these states. For instance, Article 29 calls out for establishment of democratic societies which is not a feasible alternative under an authoritarian rule.[12]

The rise of these authoritarian states challenges the liberal order built around human rights, democracy and international justice. These states were always skeptical of human rights organisations and will abstain from progressive interpretations of human rights obligations.[13] The attitude of these states is going to make the current human rights regime ineffective per se given the dominance of these states in the current world order. Though one could argue that the current international order has very deep roots in the society and is not easily threatened by these changes, these authoritarian states even during the current regime have successfully crumbled upon the human rights in their own domestic spaces. With the shift in world order in their favour, they could extend their domestic policies to the international sphere and change the course of human rights in the world.

The decline of human rights order

Political scientist Samuel Huntington cited democracy and the subsequent human rights from it as the inevitable consequence of the assertion of US dominance. He said

Democracy is promoted, but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; non-proliferation is preached for Iran and Iraq, but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth, but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue for China, but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is massively repulsed, but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards of democracy.”[14]

Though human rights have provided immense benefits for people across the globe, the proponents of these rights have used these for ulterior motives. The controller of the world order will always look for creation of institutions in the way that best suits their goals of dominance. The authoritarian dominated order would curb the liberties by counting the shortcomings of democracy. Statements like the following by the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad could be used for supporting the restrictions on human rights

 “Authoritarian stability has enabled prosperity whereas democracy has brought chaos and increased misery. Should we enforce democracy on people who may not be able to handle it and destroy themselves?”[15]

The advocates for autocracy will undermine the human rights system for shaping up their rule and establishing long term powers in the process. The emerging authoritarian states have from time and again created deadlocks in the existing human rights system for resolving humanitarian conflicts. The deadlock created in the UNSC over Syrian Civil War by Russia and China is the most recent one. Estimated suggest that over half a million people died in this conflict but still a no-vote was given for intervention in Syria.[16] This was partly due to the misuse of humanitarian intervention in Libya by NATO troops earlier where the said intervention failed miserably. The reasons also ranged to Russian alliance to Syrian government which it sought to protect while the western countries launched an offensive against the government at the same time. This is a perfect example of inefficiency the human right order could turn into.   

The current international order has survived decades of violent wars and instability. But the stability was partly due to the fact that the US and its allies were able to maintain their hegemony. With this hegemony set to be broken, an unstable human rights order is just a matter of time. Owing to the protectionist policies, the upcoming major world powers would denounce these set of rights and will look forward to replace these with a new set of rules. The nature of these rules is easily foreseeable from the domestic policies that these countries have been serving in the past. It makes the next generation of human rights regime look bleak and cites our future to be on the verge of being in dystopia.

Conclusion

George Orwell in his famous novel 1984 quoted that “power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shape of your own choosing.” This quote is very relevant to the current scenario of the changing world order where the emerging powers will restrict the shape of human rights regime suitable for their own purposes. The new Orwellian world therefore would push us back decades and nullify the attempts that were done for creating this most effective human rights regime in the course of history. The human rights regime is under threat, particularly due to the actions of the parent countries of the regime and also due to the rise of emerging countries elsewhere. The traditionalist countries are showing little to no interest in upholding the values they created for protection of human rights. It is where the role of emerging states becomes crucial. The current human rights regime need to gain the active support of at least some of the emerging states, if they are to maintain significance in the coming decades of this century. Emerging democratic states like India and others could prove to be crucial in mediating between the diverging interests of the traditional powers and illiberal emerging states elsewhere. If the human rights order is to somehow survive in the changing world order, it would depend on how these emerging states are able to bridge the gaps that exist between traditionalist and conservative powers.


[1] Fareed Zakaria, The Self-Destruction of America Power, Foreign Affairs, Volume 98 Number 4, July/August 2019 at p 10

[2] Democracy in Retreat, Freedom in the World 2019, Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat

[3] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, History of the Document, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/sections/universal-declaration/history-document/index.html

[4] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 28

[5] Seth D. Kaplan, Human Rights in Thick and Thin Societies: Universality without Uniformity, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2018)

[6] Yascha Mounk & Jordan Kyle, What Populists do to Democracies, The Atlantic, (Dec 26, 2018), https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/hard-data-populism-bolsonaro-trump/578878/

[7] Lauren Sukin, The United States treats migrants worse than Prisoner of Wars, Foreign Policy, (July 26, 2019), 10:45 AM), https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/26/the-united-states-treats-migrants-worse-than-prisoners-of-war/

[8] Philippines ‘War on Drugs’, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/tag/philippines-war-drugs

[9] Brazil: Events of 2018, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/brazil

[10] Umar Juoro, The Rise of Populist Islam in Indonesia, Turkish Policy Quarterly, (Nov. 29, 2019), http://turkishpolicy.com/article/987/the-rise-of-populist-islam-in-indonesia

[11] Roland Hughes, China Uighurs: All you need to know on Muslim ‘crackdown’, BBC, (Nov 8, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-45474279

[12] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art 29.

[13] Thijs van Lindert, The International Human Rights Regime in a Multi Polar World, Humanity in Action Nederland, (Oct. 2016), https://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledge_detail/the-international-human-rights-regime-in-a-multipolar-world/

[14] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 184 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).

[15] Speech to the Europe-East Asia Economic Forum, Hong Kong, 14 Oct. 1992. 

[16] 560,000 Killed in Syria’s War according to Updated Death Toll, Haaretz, (Dec. 10, 2018, 4:26 PM), https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/560-000-killed-in-syria-s-war-according-to-updated-death-toll-1.6700244

I am a student at National Law University, Jodhpur (India) pursuing specialization in International Trade Law and I have a keen interest in International Relations and Politics.

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International Law

UN at 75: The Necessity of Having a Stronger & More Effective United Nations

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October 24, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. In this context, this article investigates the necessity of having a stronger UN for the benefits of the world’s people. In fact, if one looks at the past, the UN came up in 1945 in response to the Second World War for a more stable, secured, and peaceful world. And the UN has been successful to a larger extent to that goals and objectives, many argue. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General for instance, wrote that ‘The United Nations, with their rules and institutions, are at the heart of the international system. They encourage States to prevent or settle disputes peacefully. The United Nations speaks for the voiceless, feeds the hungry, protects the displaced, combats organized crime and terrorism, and fights disease across the globe’ (Annan 2015).

If one looks at the history, after the Second World War, there are not so many wars on a large scale or conflicts except some bilateral Wars like Vietnam War or Iraq invasion in Kuwait or US invasion in Afghanistan or Iraq or Syrian crisis or Rohingya crisis. One can claim that the present world is more stable and peaceful than the world before the Second World War. Against this backdrop, Ramesh Thakur rightly observes, ‘On balance, the world has been a better and safer place with the UN than would have been the case without it (Thakur 2009:2). And it will not be wrong to claim that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is playing a crucial role in this regard, focusing both on ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ security issues. Hard security issues ranges from nuclear threat to international terrorism and soft security issues include human security issues to human rights to international criminal justice and international sanctions (For details see, Thakur, 2009).

The UN is not only concerned about international peace and security but also concerned about economic and social issues. There are several UN organizations e.g. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Food Programme (WFP) or the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which is involved in socio-economic issues that impact millions of people globally.

First, one can look at the role of the UN General Assembly to understand the necessity of having a more robust UN. It is the core organ of the UN. It is the only organ in which all the member countries are represented all of the time. The role of the UN includes to pass resolutions and to create subsidiary agencies to deal with particular issues (Barkin 2006: 58). UN General Assembly works as a forum where the world’s states meet and discuss the pressing global problems. In this context, Eleanor Albert, Leo Schwartz, and Alexandra Abell write that ‘Since its inception seventy-one years ago, the United Nations General Assembly has been a forum for lofty declarations, sometimes audacious rhetoric, and rigorous debate over the world’s most vexing issues, from poverty and development to peace and security’ (Albert et al. 2016). However, in September 2015, the Assembly agreed on a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, contained in the outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda (resolution 70/1). Notably, the implementation of SDG goals will have broader implications for the world’s people.

In addition, the Assembly may also take action in cases of a threat to the peace, breach of peace or act of aggression, when the Security Council has failed to act owing to the negative vote of a permanent member. In such instances, according to its “Uniting for Peace” resolution of 3 November 1950, the Assembly may consider the matter immediately and recommend to its Members collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Second, one should also look at the role of the Security Council to make the case of having a stronger United Nations. The UN Security Council is the most powerful security-related organization in contemporary world politics. As the Charter of the United Nations says: ‘the Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security (Article 24). The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of the settlement. In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security’

In contemporary world politics, the UN Security Council is the most potent security-related organization because it is the only recognized and legitimate international organ which deals with international peace and security. In this regard, Justin Morris and Nicholas J. Wheeler claim that ‘The United Nations Security Council is at the heart of the world’s collective security system’ (Morris and Wheeler 2007: 214). The UNSC play role by passing Resolutions regarding maintaining international peace and security, determining threats to peace and security and finally undertaking peacekeeping operations.

Decisions made by the Security Council are known as the Security Council resolutions. Examples of Security Council resolutions include Resolution 794 (1992), which authorized military intervention in Somalia on humanitarian ground, or the resolution 1325 (2000), which called on states to recognize the role of women in peace, and security and post-conflict situations. In the UN Security Council Working method Handbook, it is noted that the UNSC has adopted over 2,000 resolutions relating to conflict and post-conflict situations around the globe. Another report, titled Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council noted that between 2008 and 2009, the Security Council adopted  35 out of 65 resolutions in 2008 (53.8 %), and 22 out of 47 resolutions in 2009 under Chapter VII (46. 8 %) concerning threats to the peace, breaches of the peace or acts of aggression. The report also notes about several UN resolutions authorizing United Nations peacekeeping missions. In connection with the mission deployed in the Central African Republic and Chad, the Council approved the deployment of a United Nations military component for the first time in 2009 to follow up operations by the European Union in Chad and Central African Republic (EUFORChad/CAR). The Council continued to authorize enforcement action for United Nations peacekeeping missions in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), Darfur/Sudan (UNAMID), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Sudan (UNMIS). This increased number of UNSC Resolutions dealing with international peace and security reinforces its legitimacy and power as a security organization.

The critical question that comes into the forefront is how much UNSC can implement its mandates neutrally or independently in terms of maintaining world peace and security. The critiques bring the example of Iraq war (2003) where UNSC ‘faces a crisis of legitimacy because of its inability to constrain the unilaterally inclined hegemonic United States.’ (Morris and Wheeler 2007:214). Another critical question is the role of UNSC in resolving the long-standing Syrian crisis or the Rohingya refugee crisis.

It is undeniable the fact that UNSC cannot function with its full potentialities due to the challenges and limitations it faces because ‘in their pursuit of raisons d’état, states use whatever institutions are available to serve their interests’ (Weiss 2003: 151). And here comes the politics in the Security Council which is highly manifested in the past. Against this backdrop, Weiss correctly observes, ‘the politics of the UN system- not only the principal organs of UN like Security Council or General Assembly is highly politicized but even ‘technical’ organizations, for instance, World Health Organization or the Universal Postal Union continue to reflect the global division between the so-called wealthy, industrialized North and the less advantaged, developing South’ (Weiss 2009: 271).

It is, therefore, states and particularly the P5 want to use the Security Council as a means to uphold its interest. Gareth Evans rightly points out ‘for most of its history the Security Council has been a prisoner of great power manoeuvring…’ (Evans 2009:Xi).  Hence, using veto by the P5 remains a significant challenge for the UNSC to work in its fullest potentials. In the recent case of the Rohingya refugee crisis, the UNSC is unable to take adequate measures due to veto power used by China and Russia. However, the UNSC is responsible for maintaining world peace and security.

The bottomline is that there is no alternative to having a stronger and more effective UN because it is the only hope for millions of people around the world. The UN is an inevitable international organization in this turbulent world despite its criticism or limitations.Thus, it becomes essential for the P5 nations to think about the broader benefits of the world’s people instead of their narrowly defined interest in the case of using veto power. And the world also needs to acknowledge that the UN reform has been a reality to ensure the neutrality and objectivity of the United Nations for a more peaceful, stable, secured world.

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The United Nations and the Neglected Conflict of Kashmir

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The principle of ‘right of self-determination’ and its applicability to the 72-year-old Kashmir conflict needs to be considered during the 75th session of the Fourth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly that is taking place between October 8 to November 10, 2020 at its headquarters in New York. The Committee will discuss and deliberate the issues related to international conflicts and decolonization. What I do hope to offer is an unstarry-eyed view of the fate of self-determination in Kashmir; and, the indispensability of convincing the United Nations that international peace and security would be strengthened, not weakened, by resolving the Kashmir conflict to the satisfaction of all parties concerned..

The self-determination of peoples is a basic principle of the United Nation Charter, which has been reaffirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and applied countless times to the settlement of international disputes.

The concept seems to be as old as Government itself and was the basis of French and American revolutions. In 1916, President Wilson stated that self-determination is not a mere phrase. He said that it is an imperative principle of action and included it in the famous 14-point charter. This gave a prominence to the principle. Self-determination as conceived by Wilson was an imprecise amalgamation of several strands of thought, some long associated in his mind with the notion of “self-determination,” others hatched as a result or wartime developments, but all imbued with a general spirit of democracy.

Self- determination is a principle that has been developed in philosophic thought and practice for the last several hundred years. It is an idea that has caused people throughout the world to rise up and shed the chains of oppressive governments at great risk.

Finally, in 1945 the establishment of the UN gave a new dimension to the principle of self-determination.  It was made one of the objectives, which the UN would seek to achieve, along with equal rights of all nations. Article 1.2 of the Charter of the Untied Nations reads: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

From 1952 onwards, the General Assembly of the UN adopted a series of resolutions proclaiming the right to self-determination. The two most important of these are resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 and resolution 2625 (XXV) of 24 October 1970. Resolution 1514 was seen almost exclusively as part of process of decolonization. 1514 is entitled: Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.”

International Court of Justice considered the several resolutions on decolonization process and noted:  “The subsequent development of International Law in regard to non-self governing territories as enshrined in the Charter of the UN made the principle of self-determination applicable to all of them.”  This opinion establishes the self-determination as the basic principle for the process of de-colonization.

The principle of self-determination in modern times can be defined as the right of peoples to determine their own political status and pursue their own economic, social and cultural policies.  Self-determination in its literal meaning or at a terminological level also implies the right [of a people] to express itself to organize in whatever way it wants. A people must be free to express their will without interference or threat of interference from a controlling authority. This includes alien domination, foreign occupation and colonial rule.

Although, the applicability of the principle of the self-determination to the specific case of Jammu and Kashmir has been explicitly recognized by the United Nations. It was upheld equally by India and Pakistan when the Kashmir dispute was brought before the Security Council. Since, on the establishment of India and Pakistan as sovereign states, Jammu and Kashmir was not part of the territory of either, the two countries entered into an agreement to allow its people to exercise their right of self-determination under impartial auspices and in conditions free from coercion from either side. The agreement is embodied in the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, explicitly accepted by both Governments. It is binding on both Governments and no allegation of non-performance of any of its provisions by either side can render it inoperative.

It is apparent from the record of the Security Council that India articulated the principle, accepted the practical shape the Security Council gave to it and freely participated in negotiations regarding the modalities involved. However, when developments inside Jammu & Kashmir made her doubt her chances of winning the plebiscite, she changed her stand and pleaded that she was no longer bound by the agreement. Of course, she deployed ample arguments to justify the somersault. But even though the arguments were of a legal or quasi-legal nature, she rejected a reference to the World Court to pronounce on their merits. This is how the dispute became frozen with calamitous consequences for Kashmir most of all, with heavy cost for Pakistan and with none too happy results for India itself.

By all customary moral and legal yardsticks, 23 million Kashmiris from both sides of the Ceasefire Line (CFL) enjoy a right to self-determination. Kashmir’s legal history entitles it to self-determination from Indian domination every bit as much as Eritrea’s historical independence entitled it to self-determination from Ethiopian domination.

India’s gruesome human rights violations in Kashmir also militate in favor of self-determination every bit as much as Yugoslavia’s human rights violations and ethnic cleansing created a right to self-determination in Bosnia and Kosovo. Kashmir’s history of social and religious tranquility further bolsters its claim to self-determination every bit as much as East Timor’s history of domestic peace before Indonesia’s annexation in 1975 entitled it to self-determination in 1999.                                   

If law and morality are overwhelmingly on the side of Kashmiri self-determination, then why has that quest been thwarted for 72 years? The answer is self-evident: the military might of India. India is too militarily powerful, including a nuclear arsenal, and too economically mesmerizing to expect the United States, the United Nations, NATO, or the European Union to intervene. The United States is reluctant to exert moral suasion or pressure to prod India because it covets more India’s alluring economic markets and collaboration in fighting global terrorism.  Further, the size and wealth of the Indian lobby in the United States dwarfs the corresponding lobbies supporting Kashmir.  

The world powers need to understand that there is no way the dispute can be settled once and for all except in harmony with the people’s will, and there is no way the people’s will can be ascertained except through an impartial vote. Secondly, there are no insuperable obstacles to the setting up of a plebiscite administration in Kashmir under the aegis of the United Nations. The world organization has proved its ability, even in the most forbidding circumstances, to institute an electoral process under its supervision and control and with the help of a neutral peace‑keeping force. The striking example of this is Namibia, which was peacefully brought to independence after seven decades of occupation and control by South Africa; East Timor and Southern Sudan, which got independence only through the intervention of the United Nations. Thirdly, as Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations Representative, envisaged seven decades ago, the plebiscite can be so regionalized that none of the different zones of the state will be forced to accept an outcome contrary to its wishes.

In conclusion, a sincere and serious effort towards a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute must squarely deal with the realities of the situation and fully respond to the people’s rights involved in it. Indeed, any process that ignores the wishes of the people of Kashmir and is designed to sidetrack the United Nations will not only prove to be an exercise in futility but can also cause incalculable human and political damage.

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UN anniversary’s gloomy takeaways

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On its 75th anniversary and amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations has for the first time convened world leaders mainly in an online format to seek action and solutions for a world in crisis.

The UNO’s predecessor, the League of Nations, wrapped up its work with the outbreak of World War 2, but the further the start of the present United Nations slides back in history, the more skeptical assessments of its performance are being heard today. How come?

The United Nations Organization was created by the victorious nations shortly after the end of the Second World War, but the idea of ​​creating a new international organization tasked with maintaining global peace and security was actually floated by members of the anti-Hitler coalition even before the war was over. During their August 14, 1941 meeting at the British naval station Argentia (Newfoundland), US President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill inked the Atlantic Charter, which defined the two countries’ goals in the war against Nazi Germany, and outlined the first sketches of the post-war world order. The Soviet Union joined the declaration on September 24 of that same year. On January 1, 1942, representatives of 26 Allied countries endorsed the Atlantic Charter and signed the United Nations Declaration. Welcomed as the idea of creating a new organization was by everyone, however, there still were numerous disagreements regarding its tasks, goals and powers.

At a conference held in Moscow on October 19-30, 1943, the foreign ministers of the USSR, the US and Great Britain (Vyacheslav Molotov, Cordell Hull and Anthony Eden), signed the Declaration of Four Nations on General Security (it was also signed by China’s ambassador to the USSR Fu Bingchang), where the parties pledged to fast-track the creation of an international organization to maintain peace and security. The final agreement on the creation of the United Nations Organization was reached in March 1945 during the Yalta Conference by the leaders of the three Allied Powers – Josef Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

It was established that the UN would be based on the principle of unanimity of the great powers – permanent members of the Security Council with a veto right. Harry Truman, who succeeded Franklin Roosevelt, who died in April 1945, was openly critical of the agreement, but during a conference in San Francisco, where Soviet and US representatives locked horns over a number of issues pertaining to the UN Charter, the Soviet position prevailed.  The sides eventually reached a compromise whereby the UN General Assembly could discuss any issues, but did not have the right to take decisions binding on the UN member states.

On June 26, 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco to sign the UN Charter. On October 24, 1945, the Soviet Union became the 29th state to have submitted the instrument of ratification, thus securing the necessary number of votes for the Charter’s entry into force. Since 1948, October 24 has been marked as United Nations Day.

The status of the United Nations Organization, paid for by tens of millions of lives perished in World War II, went unquestioned for quite some time, ensuring for more than half a century peace in Europe and a relatively predictable situation globally. Over time, however, even the most durable world order is bound to be put to a test.

At the turn of the 1990s, the bipolar system of international relations and the Cold War were replaced by a new world order based on the political and economic predominance of the United States and its closest allies. By historical standards, however, this period proved pretty short-lived since the world is too complicated to unconditionally kowtow to the principles of the Washington Consensus. By the close of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, new centers of power and integration projects began to emerge, initiated by countries in Eurasia and Latin America.

Serious doubts about the reliability of the existing system of international security appeared already in 1999 with NATO’s enlargement to the east to incorporate Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic – the first such process since the end of WW2. In that very same year, the forces of the North Atlantic Alliance, sidestepping the UN Security Council, launched bombing raids against Yugoslavia, thus throwing in question the entire system of post-war treaties. Since then, almost every US-initiated military operation in the world has been conducted illegitimately and classified by the UN Security Council as an act of aggression and condemned by both Russia and China, which insist that any use of force in international relations, be it political, economic or military, should come exclusively as a result of consensus of all members of the Security Council.

The veto right by a permanent member of the Security Council to block any decision, even if it is approved by all other members, remains the backbone of the entire system of international security. Everyone understands this, but not everyone is ready to come to terms with it.

The UN’s presence in the world after the end of the inter-bloc confrontation has significantly increased with its mandate transcending military aspects and now including humanitarian and social issues.

However, the world is facing the growing threat of numerous conflicts flaring up that can’t be resolved without a consensual decision by the key UN member states which, in turn, has proved to be extremely hard to achieve. It’s not just about the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as even the content of international documents is being disputed now. Who would possibly object to the need to combat the activities of terrorist and extremist organizations? And still, practice shows that the term “terrorism” carries a different meaning for European countries and, for example, those in the Middle East. As a result, UN Security Council resolutions on the settlement of contemporary conflicts in this region are actually ignored. Civil wars in Libya and Syria, as well as the extremely difficult situation in Iraq, caused to a large extent by the interference of the United States and its allies, as well as by the activities of network extremists, have added to the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Adding to this is the rising threat posed by drug and cyber terrorism.

With the situation being as it is, the United Nations is facing a growing wave of criticism. The organization has been criticized before – in 1993 the UN mission in Somalia fell though, and in 1994, the UN failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda, stop hostilities in Congo and the civil war in the Balkans, which led to an armed intervention by NATO. The actions by representatives of the UN and organizations it helped create in the Middle East often lack their declared impartiality.

While during the Cold War era decision-making mechanisms in the international arena were based on the decisions by the Yalta and Potsdam conferences of 1945, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and a raft of arms control treaties, after the period of confrontation ended, so did the period of transparent “rules of the game” in world politics. Moreover, many non-state actors have emerged and now wield serious financial and political influence. Nevertheless, the UN remains the only organization that prevents the existing structure of global security from falling apart in the extremely difficult circumstances of this day and age.

There have been growing demands to bring the UN and its Security Council in line with modern-day realities. During the 75 years of the organization’s existence, the number of its member states has increased from 50 to 193, as have the shortcomings of many of its agencies. Many criticize the UN’s peacekeeping operations as haphazard, extremely selective and prone to double standards. The organization has been repeatedly called out for being in a financial crisis. Many developing countries (states of the “global South”) are trying to limit the veto power enjoyed by the permanent members of the Security Council and are demanding more equitable geographical representation in the Council. Developed countries such as Germany, Japan, Brazil and India also seek the status of permanent members of the UN Security Council. They propose to expand the Council to 25 members, with two permanent seats reserved for Asia and Africa and one each for Latin America and Western Europe.

In 2017, US President Donald Trump came up with a plan to reform the UN, proposing, among other things, to optimize the organization’s expenses and get more return for every dollar invested in it. Well, by the efficiency of the UN’s work Trump apparently means decisions that would serve America’s best interests.

Washington’s tactic regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program is very indicative here. In 2015, Iran and the 5 + 1 group of states (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, as well as Germany) signed the so-called Iran nuclear deal, according to which Tehran refused to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for a gradual lifting of international sanctions. However, in 2018, Washington pulled out of the accord and announced new sanctions against the Islamic Republic. On August 20, 2020, the United States sent a letter to the UN Security Council announcing the launch of the so-called sanctions snapback process whereby any signatory to the 2015 deal could re-impose sanctions against Iran if it found that Tehran was not fulfilling its obligations under the agreement. The idea was simple: it was enough to submit a request to the UN Security Council to launch the snapback mechanism to force the Security Council to raise the issue of continued implementation of the entire Iranian nuclear deal. The Americans would then use their veto power and the document would simply cease to exist. This didn’t happen though as all other permanent members of the Security Council ignored the US request. Therefore, following the necessary 30-day pause, on September 21, the US imposed unilateral sanctions against Tehran. A paradoxical situation ensued: de jure, no sanctions exist for most countries, but de facto, Washington feels free to punish anyone who dares to violate these “nonexistent” restrictions and continues to cooperate with Tehran pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2231.

The majority of the permanent members of the Security Council want to more or less keep in place the UN’s current decision-making mechanisms, which give them obvious privileges while simultaneously allowing them to solve the main task the UN was originally created for, i.e. the prevention of major wars between great powers. Besides, no comprehensive reform of the organization appears likely since there are no criteria all member countries would agree with. Therefore, despite all the critical barbs, the organization will continue in its classical form, at least for now. Meanwhile, the world finds itself in a state of complete uncertainty caught between the remaining fragments of a failed attempt to build a unipolar system and institutions inherited from the second half of the 20th century.

Russia’s position on the UN reform remains fairly balanced. Moscow believes that changes should not affect two key provisions – the approval of the proposed plan by the overwhelming majority of the participating countries, and the preservation of the Security Council’s prerogatives, including the right of veto.

Russia stands for the development of the UN’s peacekeeping potential, which it believes is not fully in line with the tasks currently facing the organization, and for wider cross-border social and humanitarian cooperation necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The way out of the socio-economic crisis caused by this epidemic will be long and extremely difficult, therefore it is imperative to stop dividing countries into “us” and “them,” and start developing all the necessary mechanisms of cooperation. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov outlined these priorities in his speech at the 75th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly on behalf of the CSTO member states.

“The fate of the United Nations is in the hands of its member states. Just like in 1945, we need to cast aside our differences and come together for the sake of delivering on common objectives, based on equitable dialogue and mutual respect for one another’s interests. The UN offers all the necessary conditions to this effect,” Lavrov emphasized.

From our partner International Affairs

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